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Oklahoma DA halts I-40 drug stops after criticism

Caddo County Special Judge David A. Stephens said he was shocked District Attorney Jason Hicks used private company to participate in drug busts when company officers not certified by state.
by Nolan Clay Published: July 21, 2013
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After seizing more than $1 million in cash in drug stops this year, a district attorney has suspended further roadside busts by his task force because of growing criticism over a private company's participation.

His prosecutors have dropped all criminal cases arising from the drug stops, The Oklahoman was told. Some seized money is being returned. The attorney general's office is investigating one complaint some seized funds went missing.

“I'm shocked,” a Caddo County special judge said July 2.

The judge spoke at a hearing after learning the private company's owner pulled over a pregnant driver along Interstate 40 and questioned her even though he is not a state-certified law enforcement officer.

“For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me,” Special Judge David A. Stephens said.

The judge said he hoped Joe David, owner of Desert Snow LLC, wouldn't do it again.

“If you do, I hope to see you soon, wearing orange,” the judge said, referring to the color of jail clothes in Caddo County.

At issue is District Attorney Jason Hicks' decision to hire Desert Snow to do on-site training with his task force for a year.

He signed a one-of-its-kind contract in January to pay the Guthrie-based company 25 percent of any funds seized during actual training days. He agreed to pay the company 10 percent of funds seized by his task force on other days when the company trainers weren't present.

Most stops have been along a 21-mile stretch of I-40 in the rolling hills of Caddo County.

Sometimes, no drugs were found and no one was arrested, but task force officers took money found in the vehicles anyway after a drug-sniffing dog got excited.

Forfeited funds are split among the law enforcement agencies of the task force after Desert Snow is paid.

Hicks has paid the company more than $40,000 so far. The company could get another $212,000 off the largest seizure its officials participated in — the discovery of almost $850,000 in May.

“I think his intentions were good, but I don't think he thought it out,” said well-known defense attorney Irven Box, who represents a Colorado man charged with marijuana possession after being stopped for a cracked windshield.

Box said in no way should a private company be involved in drug stops when it gets paid from funds found on the stops.

“That … at least gives the appearance that these seizures are done for profit and not to protect the citizens,” he said.

DA promises review

In a lengthy interview Thursday, Hicks said he did nothing wrong.

“I believe I have done everything right,” he said.

He promised to review every civil money forfeiture case and every criminal case involving his task force.

“I understand the criticism. I understand the concern,” he said. “I have halted any activity on the highway by the interdiction unit pending my review … with the staff attorneys.”

Hicks was elected in 2010 as the district attorney for Grady, Stephens, Caddo and Jefferson counties.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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